The viability of nuclear energy has long focused on concerns about nuclear safety. The government and industry responses to the three major nuclear reactor accidents—Three Mile Island (TMI), Chernobyl, and Fukushima—offer insights about how to prevent and respond to nuclear accidents. While there is no perfect strategy for prevention or response, past experience can and should inform decisions on regulating nuclear power in the future. The following comparison of three accidents reveals that independent oversight and a strong safety culture are paramount to rapid response, organized evacuation and repopulation, and clear communication to local publics during and after an accident at a nuclear power plant.
Physical aspects of the response to a nuclear accident. Immediately following a nuclear power plant accident, the first goal of the physical response strategy is to manage radiation exposure and minimize public safety risks. However, these rapid responses are often carried out in conditions of poor information; the extent of damage to a nuclear reactor and resulting risk zones are still unknown. Each of the three major nuclear reactor accidents has spurred at minimum a rapid response to events unfolding at the reactor site, but the wider physical responses reveal contrasting approaches.